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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Norris Will Even Dot the I

Kennedy wants to get ball into explosive receiver's hands often, so he will also line up at tailback.

August 27, 2000|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GRANADA HILLS — Dot, dot, dash. James Norris' feet stutter-step so quickly they are a blur. He's past one defender as another closes in.

Dot, dot, dash. Norris makes another move and leaves the defender grasping for air.

Norris is watching film of Kennedy High games from last season. He doesn't have to wait long before seeing himself score a touchdown. After all, he had 24.

He knows opponents will be watching that same film, trying to crack Norris code.

"Some of the plays I made, I watch them on film and wonder, 'How did I do that?' " he said. "I worked hard. My quarterback was good. My line was good."

And Norris, all 5-foot-6, 150 pounds of him, was fabulous. The most dangerous receiver in the Golden Cougars' spread offense, he had 80 catches for 1,186 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also returned five punts and kicks for touchdowns.

But he was an unheralded junior in a system that presented several options. Rarely was he double-covered.

"Teams won't let James out of their sight this year," Coach Bob Francola of Kennedy said. "We realize James has to see the ball in a number of different ways. Somehow he has to touch the ball on a regular basis. We have a few things up our sleeve."

Expect Kennedy to put Norris in motion often to make it difficult for a cornerback and safety to double-cover him. And don't be surprised if he lines up at tailback on occasion.

But more often, expect quarterback Adam Geery to simply heave the ball Norris' way.

"When he's a single receiver on the backside and runs a deep route, I just throw it 60 yards and he runs under it and catches it out of nowhere," Geery said. "We're going to spread the ball around to all our receivers, but if James is open he'll make big plays."

Geery is different than Ruben Zaragoza, who started last season and passed for a school-record 3,241 yards. Zaragoza, a Prop. 48 freshman at Cal State Northridge, possessed a deft touch and quick release in addition to being a three-year starter.

Geery, one of the Valley's top baseball players, has a strong arm but is playing only his second season of football.

"Adam has the deep ball down," Norris said. "He's doing fine. He doesn't have Ruben's experience, but he'll just keep getting better."

So will Norris. After another year in the weight room, he is stronger. He has great leaping ability and reaches top speed after only a few strides.

He also knows more is expected of a top senior than big plays.

"I've got to be a leader and spread that to my teammates," he said. "It's my nature to just be calm and cool and go out and play. This is an exciting challenge for me."

His confidence and poise are products of his upbringing. Norris' half-brother, Waking Bailey, is a former Kennedy star who is a senior receiver at San Jose State.

"Everything I know about playing receiver I learned from him," Norris said.

Norris didn't grow much in stature, but his ability is unquestioned. He is ranked among the top receivers in the state by several publications and has received letters from many Division I colleges.

However, he has failed to achieve a qualifying score on the SAT twice, although he came within 50 points both times. He plans to take the test again in the fall and also will take the ACT.

"James is a B-plus student, he's fine academically," Francola said. "He's working and studying hard."

Improvement will be necessary on the field as well. Norris code is was nearly impossible to decipher last season, but opposing teams will study those films.

"I'll be able to break tackles that I couldn't last year," he said. "And I've developed some new moves."

Dot, dot, dash.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

HOW THEY RATE

A look at the top wide receivers in the region:

*--*

Rk Player School Ht. Wt. Yr.

*--*

With comment by Eric Sondheimer

*--*

1. James Norris Kennedy 5-6 150 Sr.

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Caught 80 passes and 19 touchdowns last season

*--*

2. Ryan Foltz Westlake 6-2 190 Sr.

*--*

Can be as good as any receiver in Westlake history

*--*

3. Brett Mitchell St. Francis 5-8 155 Sr.

*--*

Great hands, great speed, great intelligence

*--*

4. Keith Jarbo Burroughs 6-3 205 Sr.

*--*

Somehow, Indians need to get him the ball

*--*

5. L. Ray Hawkins Newbury Park 6-2 190 Sr.

*--*

Made 64 receptions as a junior

*--*

6. Joey Rodriguez Granada Hills 5-9 160 Sr.

*--*

Has two speeds: Fast and faster.

*--*

7. Larry Viltz Crespi 6-3 205 Sr.

*--*

Hard worker who keeps improving

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8. Jason Hogan Crescenta Valley 5-10 175 Sr.

*--*

Received impressive reviews in summer tournaments

*--*

9. Mike Luderer Notre Dame 6-2 200 Sr.

*--*

Has speed, big hands and only needs experience

*--*

10. Dave Anderson Thousand Oaks 5-11 175 Jr.

*--*

One of the best athletes in Ventura County

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11. Tyrone Culver Palmdale 6-1 185 Sr.

*--*

Knows how to pick up yards after making the catch

*--*

12. Jake Norton Hart 5-10 180 Sr.

*--*

Will be Kyle Matter's top target

*--*

13. Brandon Browner Monroe 6-4 179 Jr.

*--*

Possesses plenty of ability

*--*

14. Andrew Petersen L.A. Baptist 6-1 185 Sr.

*--*

It's his first year of football but beware

*--*

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